Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Upcoming Event: SPX (Small Press Expo)

Greeting, Gentle Readers.  Long time no blog for me.  To be honest, writing has become a struggle for me lately.  Luckily, SPX comes along next month to give me something to be excited about and hopefully kick me out of this writer's funk.  

Last year was my first SPX and I found it to be a great convention for exploring independent comics.  You'll find some of the smaller (in size, but not awesomeness) publishers like Adhouse Books and Top Shelf Comics, but most of the rows of table occupying the ballroom of the Marriott Bethesda North Hotel & Conference Center are self published artists and writers. 

SPX is where I was first introduced to excellent Pittsburgh talents, Pat Lewis and Ed Piskor.  Pat won me over with his adorable cartoon style and Ed won me over with his love of Public Enemy.  (On a sad note, it appears they will not be at SPX this year according to the current list.  Neither will the fabulous J. Chris Campbell.  I will miss him so very much on the road to Bethesda.)  SPX is a wonderful con to interact with creators a more personal level.  Sure, they're still behind a table, but there's a more relaxed vibe to this smaller setting.   

I'm also really excited about the Ignatz Awards this year which are being hosted by Charlotte's very own, Dustin Harbin.  The Ignatz Awards honor comics from graphic novels to web comics as well as new talent and outstanding artists.  The nominees are also voted on by those who attend SPX.  I'm sure Dusty will bring his very own special flair to the awards show as he has to HeroesCon auctions in the past.  Is it wrong to hope for costume changes and maybe a little Dharbin Drag?

While I will be sad about some of last year's artists missing in action this year, I am excited about picking up some new books from some old favorites.  I'm looking forward to picking up some more adventures of Ms. Sassypants, the guinea pig who is also a P.I., by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie YueJoey Weiser will be debuting a Monster Isle mini comic, Big Monster Stuff, that looks absolutely adorable.  I read all of his published Mermin after Fluke and just loved it.  Rob Ullman will have his Animal Alphabet sketchbook which collects all his animal sketches from A-Z.  I really enjoyed all the Animal Alphabet sketches and hope more of the artist who participated collect their works.  I'll also be picking up Remake Special by Lamar Abrams.  There are a lot of great debuts planned and SPX has done us a great benefit by listing them all for those of us who plan their purchases. 

On the debut list is Stargazing Dog by Takashi Murakami, which is Japanese manga book being released in the US by NBM.  I've never read any manga, but I am drawn to the cover of a small white dog surrounded by yellow flowers.  The story sounds like something I would like as well-a man down on his luck drives away from his life with only his dog.  Who doesn't feel like that sometimes?

I'm also planning to pick up Don't Mess with the Pink Voo-Doo Bunny by Jim8ball and Messed Up Fairy Tales 3 (I hope they have the first two as this book sure does look fun) by the Draw Sucka! artists.  I'm sure I'll see even more mini-comic goodness while there that will draw me in.  I started hoarding cash for SPX a few weeks ago.  Last year, I learned a lot of about my buying habits (cute animals draw me in).  When buying comics from a previously unknown person, I tend to gravitate towards the pleasant and engaging people.  Desperation and aggression send me the other way.  I was also surprised by the off-putting attitude by a few of the exhibitors last year.  A smile goes a long way in making a sale.

We'll be road-tripping to this one with the Dollar Bin.  If this results in any recordings, I'll be sure to link them here.  I'm hoping we'll make what should become an annual side trip to 7-11.  We don't have these down in NC anymore and it's fun to pick up the slurpee of the month.  

SPX is September 10-11 at:

Marriott Bethesda North Hotel & Conference Center
5701 Marinelli Road.
North Bethesda, MD 20852
Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tales from Reboot Hill

     Thus far I've kept relatively quiet about DC's upcoming reboot/relaunch of their titles.  Too often I've only seen or heard cut and dry comments that were either lavishly praising or harshly condemning this gutsy move.  At the end of the day, once all these books are published, the result will be nothing that unlike what we've seen in the past.  Some of the books will be surprisingly good, some will be as bad as we're expecting, most will be be mediocre, and maybe, just maybe, a few will be really enjoyable examples of comics entertainment.  Can these books really all be great or poor?  Of course not.  That's not how comics, or music, or films, or anything work.  This move does seem to signify several larger issues that are slowly affecting the whole industry.

     What I haven't seen or heard many people acknowledging is that for the past several months Marvel has been releasing new #1 issues (at least one a month) for most of their primary characters.  If you add it up (Invincible Iron Man, The Mighty Thor, Captain America, FF, Daredevil, Uncanny X-men, Incredible Hulk, Defenders, Avengers, and then some), it's pretty clear that they've been employing the same basic strategy as DC, albeit in a likely wiser method of spreading them out over a longer stretch of months.  Nonetheless, they are providing the market with both a greater quantity and frequency of new relaunching #1 issues than we've probably seen in recent years.
An excerpt from Eddie Campbell's Alec
     As a comics retailer I appreciate the idea that someone could conceivably walk into the store and find several books that can ease them into specific character's worlds.  If someone saw the Thor movie, they might be hesitant to buy issue #615 just because the weight of 600 + Thor issues can be intimidating.  If they see an issue #1 (or anything in the single digits) they will be much more likely to pick it up and give it a try.  Longtime readers are a bit different in that they can be understandably weary and jaded about big publishing events or relaunches.  These readers have undoubtedly seen that relaunches or reboots don't always translate into quality comics.  The worry from a retail standpoint is always that if a relaunch isn't very good, it might not only put off existing readers, but also might not sustain any new readers over a substantial period of time.  Isn't it true that anything that gives people a chance to read comics with ease is ultimately a good thing?  Well, yes and no.  I welcome new comics readers however we can get them, but I can't help but feel that all these reboots and new #1 issues are indicative of a greater problem.

     In past decades, or at least in the '80's and '90's of my memory, there were always limited series and occasional new ongoing titles being launched, but if you wanted a good jumping-on issue, you usually had to wait until a new story arc started.  Yes, Action Comics, Detective Comics, Amazing Spider-man, Avengers, Uncanny X-men, and most other big titles had hundreds of issues, but that longevity meant something to me as a kid.  It suggested sustainability of both story and character.  I can't help but think that with the advent of new technologies that have made life so much quicker and information so much more readily available, comics readers new and old are exhibiting more traits of instant gratification.  Titles that reach hundreds of issues might not be as attractive to new readers as they used to be.  More than this, I'd argue that this instant gratification way of thinking by readers is also present in comics publishing plans.

     It's a good marketing strategy on both Marvel and DC's parts to attempt to both capitalize and lead readers into their film properties through their comics (and vice versa).  I just have to question the overall quality control of book when writers and artists know they'll be laying the groundwork for a new #1 issue down the road, or a new costume design, or a death or rebirth, or a company-wide event.  Is this kind of methodology really conducive to long term creativity and character development?  I know comics aren't Shakespeare or Faulkner, but they do still have the potential for great storytelling.  Let's hope solid creators will still navigate the big publishers and find ways of telling entertaining, well-crafted stories.
Another excerpt from Alec

     If you've read Exile on Plain Street before, you know it's not our style to only write about things we dislike in comics.  There are plenty of talking heads, blogs, and podcasts willing to point out the negatives, but sometimes fail to see the redeeming qualities.  So in the interest of encouraging this medium I love so much, here is a list of comics I've recently read, reread, or am anticipating, and what I liked (or hope to like) about them.

> Wolverine: Weapon X vol. 1: The Adamantium Men:  I've dug just about everything that Jason Aaron has written, from Scalped, to X-men: Schism, to Ghost Rider. Why do I like this guy's writing so much?  Aside from making me care about characters I never really cared about before (like all of those I just mentioned), he seems to tap into each character's real personality.  And if you can get past a guy with a flaming skull, or a guy with knives in his hands who can't die, you might find a level of depth that reflects a writer who is hellbent on giving very human motivations to very comic book characters.  He's gearing up to start both a Wolverine and the X-men series, and an Incredible Hulk relaunch.  In both cases I'm there, just because of the guy's track record for cranking out consistently well-written comics.

> Alec: How to Be an Artist: I love Eddie Campbell's Alec stories, as well as his collaborations with Alan Moore.  If you can hunt down a copy of this (or A Disease of Language, which collects his poetic collaborations with Moore), you'll be treated to a historical overview of British comics in the '70's and '80's, as well as Campbell's own musings on the development of his own craft.  Alec is one of those books I reread with regularity every year or so because I'm guaranteed to see something new with older eyes.  This is a rare book that actually grows with you as you age and hopefully progress in your own thoughts.

> Snarked! #1Roger Langridge holds a high place on my list of favorite people and creators in comics.  Snarked! is a solid all ages story that owes much to the writings of Lewis Carroll.  As typical of any Langridge book, his inherent joy and love for comics shines through, but what is especially noteworthy of this particular title is that he's clearly relishing the written word as well.  Langridge has already proven his writing chops on books like Fred the Clown, but this one is affording him a chance to recount his appreciation for a famed voice from literary history.

> Rocketeer Adventures: IDW's new anthology series continues to unfold as a love letter to the late great Dave Stevens with comics creators from across the industry paying respectful homage to his most famous creation.  What I like about this series is its' simplicity and the directness in which these creators are working.  Each story is short, to the point, and full of the same type of pulpy adventure that made me love Rocketeer when it first saw print.

> Animal Man #1: Since I started this post on the topic of DC's reboot/relaunch, I'm including this as the book I'm most looking forward to reading.  Sure, Scott Snyder's going to do great with Batman, and Grant Morrison's going to give us a working man's Superman in Action Comics, but this one has a lot of potential in my eyes.  Jeff Lemire's Essex County impressed me when I read it, but I didn't really enjoy The Nobody, or any of his recent DC super hero books.  So why is this one appealing to me?  Aside from the interesting qualities that make Animal Man unique, this book seems to have its' roots in the idea of the super hero as a family man.  Also worth noting is the preview art from Travel Foreman, which seems to suggest that the book will have plenty of horror elements, which should not only balance the super hero and family aspects, but potentially dig into the darker potential of the character.

     So there you have it, some books I've recently enjoyed.  Comics have been an integral part of my life for almost my entire life.  While I am hesitant and concerned about some things that appear to be happening within the industry at this moment, comics remain a vital and important means of communication and storytelling for me.  It would do us all some good to look at things with a critical eye, but also see and talk about good comics when we find them.